A Blueprint for Making a Living as a Ghostwriter
With guidance on where to find your first gigs
It was about 7 or 8 years ago when I first heard the term: ghostwriting. I was an unknown author sitting at my desk every day, writing my little heart out whenever I wasn’t at work. I loathed my job and started researching other ways to make money as a writer…sort of what you’re doing now, right?
No one was buying my novels so continuing on my current path of churning out my own stories wasn’t an option. I did a quick search online and that’s when I first came across the term that I didn’t realize would become the solution to my problem.
My initial follow-up question was the same many others ask when they first hear me say it’s what I do for a living: People do that? or Is it really a thing?
The answer to both is Yes. It is really a thing and people actually do it. There are plenty of people looking for others to write for them and those looking to pay for a ghostwriter’s service are usually looking to turn a profit. And the price isn’t typically too big of a deal for people with this mindset because, as any salesperson will tell you, no price point is too high if the value is there.
Why You Should Charge Higher Prices for Your Work
And why discounted prices can kill your business
Think of it this way. Would you want to pay a plumber $100 to install a sink faucet where the hot and cold handles are installed the wrong way and the faucet leaks, or would you rather pay $300 to a plumber to give you exactly what you asked for…and then some?
As a professional ghostwriter, you are providing your client with this fantastic service — a piece of work so far above and beyond what they were hoping for that their praise warms your soul. And in return, those who may have initially flinched at your price will tell you that they would have paid double for what they’d received in the end.
Ghostwriting in a nutshell
A ghostwriter, in short, writes for someone else and is paid for that writing. In return, the client who pays for said writing puts their own name on the cover and receives all the accolades. (So if you’re looking to be interviewed by Oprah or Ellen, this might not be right for you.)
Typically, at the beginning of a working relationship, a writer and their client will both sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This protects any information the client shares with the writer. Any confidential information shared for the purpose of research and writing isn’t yours to share. Nor can you, the writer, advertise that you’re writing the story for the client.
Sorry. No social media posts about writing for Big-Time Client X. And believe me, there are a lot of Big-Time Client Xs who hire ghostwriters for their books. Some of those celebrity faces you see spread out on the dust jackets in bookstores? Many of them use ghostwriters. (Probably all of them.)
A bit of motivation
For the super-rich and famous, hiring a ghostwriter is simple. They have their people reach out to a top New York publishing house to indicate they want a book written in their name. That publishing house agrees to take on the book as the publisher and then hires a ghostwriter they’ve worked with before to pen the thing.
How much will you earn if you’re a ghostwriter of this magnitude? Upwards of $200,000. Yes, you read that correctly. (And I linked the article for your reference.) As an avid student of the trade, I read a lot. I came across this number in an article recently and while I’m nowhere near this caliber of a ghostwriter (not yet, anyway), it gives me all the more reason to continue doing what I’m doing, making the connections I’m making.
That being said, literary works with price tags that high are so far and few that you could starve (or develop carpal tunnel) before you even get a sniff at a project like that. For most of us, the $.20 to $.50 per word range is what we can charge as professional ghostwriters and still make a fairly decent living. Once you’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list, your prices can certainly go higher.
Finding clients in the beginning
As writers, we’ve all seen the onslaught of sites promising work for writers. Some are legitimate and some are not — I won’t get into company-bashing in this article because I’m caffeinated and happy.
But we’ve all come across them, right? The sites willing to pay $.01 per word — or less! — and before they will hire you, they want samples, references, and so forth. While projects offering these prices make me cringe, they may not be the worst place to start for beginners. If you’re young, fresh out of school with no kids and no major expenses, my suggestion would be to go the route of Upwork and Guru to find and bid on projects. Yes, there will be people offering pennies, but these can be good résumé-builders.
While you’re getting your feet wet with these first projects, I would also suggest creating your own ghostwriting website. On this website, make sure you have 3 things:
- Writing samples
- A contact form for people to reach you
- A pricing page
The first two may be no–brainers, but if you’re wondering why a pricing page is important, it’s so that people know how much you charge. Notice I didn’t say how little you charge, but how much. Without a clear pricing or rates page, you risk being discouraged when people reach out to you with potential ideas only to run the other way when you mention your prices.
Once you become a pro
So you’ve gotten some starter work? Built-up your résumé and referral list? Got your website up and running?
Good. You’re off to a great start. You can start moving away from those beginner sites for finding clients, but I wouldn’t advise burning bridges with them for good. You can still find some gems and might need to use them if your business slows down.
With your portfolio built and ready to be displayed to the world, now it’s time to start reaching out to some companies that can create better opportunities for you.
- Gotham Ghostwriters is one of the best agencies for finding work. They vary widely in the project types: fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, speeches, and more.
- If it’s narrative nonfiction or memoirs you like writing, Story Terrace has a long list of writers and is always looking to bring on fresh faces.
- The Association of Ghostwriters is also a good resource for finding some leads, but they also provide valuable information to their members.
You can also bypass the middle man by finding your own clients through marketing and advertising your services. You’ve set up your website, right? Now utilize it and create some ads to bring leads directly to your site.
With a small daily budget, you can create a Facebook ad that reaches thousands of potential clients. Or you can create a pay-per-click ad on Google which will push your listing to the top of the results page for certain keywords.
A tip for using either of these methods: don’t use a link that will take the potential client to your website’s home page. Have it link directly to your contact page or, if possible, create a nice landing page with the call-to-action “above the fold,” or at the top of the page.
Before I spend another hour going into marketing strategies, let me stop there.
Your career awaits
Writing is great, isn’t it? As I write this, I’m sitting in my gym shorts (ironic, since they haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years) and a t-shirt. As soon as I close my laptop, I’ll walk away from my desk, go out in the other room and play with my kids. No commute. No traffic. No worry about whether or not my attire is work-appropriate or asking the boss if I can leave early to head to a doctor’s appointment.
It takes time to build a client list and get to the point where you can survive off of writing alone. But the freedom that comes with being a full-time ghostwriter makes the struggle worth it.